LTE Asia, 18 – 19 September 2012, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

I’ll be chairing the first day of LTE Asia, which is much broader in scope than simply the air interface LTE (Long Term Evolution).  Its focused on the evolution of an increasingly important service to customers, broadband internet access, and the networks that support that service.  I purposefully did not insert the term mobile, as customers expect ubiquity in their services, whether its voice, messaging, TV, or internet access.  I use the term networks as traditional services are becoming applications across multiple networks.  Having services limited to particular locations is a legacy from the time of fixed-only and mobile-only telecommunication network operators.

The conference addresses the critical techno-economic issues around the migration in operators’ networks.  Currently mobile networks are playing catch-up with WiFi from a customer experience perspective, with LTE providing a matching experience to WiFi, and the rapid evolution including TD-LTE and LTE-Advanced means mobile networks can exceed fixed networks from a customer experience perspective, at the very least the customer simply will not care what network they are connected to as long as there are no surprises in the bill at the end of the month.

In this technology-led evolution its important to realize that customers remain confused on what WiFi, 3G, HSDPA, HSPA, HSPA+, 4G, LTE, TD-LTE, LTE TDD, 4G LTE, etc. really mean to them.  I’ve seen market surveys where people are asked what is WiFi and what is 3G they respond by saying, “WiFi is free, 3G isn’t” or simply have no idea.  Have a look at this video to see what I mean. We recently saw the fine imposed on Apple for marketing 4G iPads in Australia when the device did not work in the LTE band, but the embarrassingly small $2.2m fine is likely worth all the free publicity it generated for the iPad as most devices (close to 90%) sold are only ever WiFi connected.  Throughout the conference it will be important to not lose sight of the customer and their experience in the discussions on technology and networks.  As a personal example in this month’s AT&T bill my wife was charged $50 for a 15 min call to Singapore.  Applications like Vonage and Skype are giving us better quality voice, a better overall experience, and not charging us $50 for a 15 minute call.  Customers are being driven to OTT (Over The Top) applications by legacy monopolist behavior.

The conference will examine in detail topics such as:

  • LTE and LTE Advanced, and of increasing importance in the APAC region is TD-LTE in meeting the inherently asymmetric capacity requirements of internet access, video is mainly downloaded, and there is abundant unpaired spectrum in some countries.
  • Regulations and spectrum remain critical issues, the 2.6MHz band is most popular globally for LTE, with the 700-800MHz band most popular for initial launches.  APAC has the largest number of bands at 11, band pairing will be critical in the region to manage the urban / rural deployment challenges.  Within the bands are different allocations and evolution in those allocations.  The greatest risk to LTE is that which befell WiMax – fragmentation.
  • Small cells and the role of WiFi off-load from both a technical and business perspective.  If an operator doesn’t control the security of the network then there isn’t one click payments.  The WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance) is trying to solve this.  I highlight this point simply to show that apparently network focused decisions impact customers’ experiences.
  • Policy control in managing traffic and services.  Global broadband traffic continues to grow at 75% every 6 months, fueled by over the top video (e.g. YouTube globally and Netflix in the US) and the rapid growth of broadband connected subscriptions and devices.  Policy control also enables innovation in services which is yet to be fully explored.
  • Business model evolution, looking across services and ecosystems; the focus must equally be on the customer’s end-to-end experience not just the network.  The issue of relevancy of the operator to its customers is equally as important as new revenues.
  • Roaming remains a critical question and whether the move to VoLTE (Voice over LTE) should be used to create a break traditional roaming charging models.
  • Throughout conference the question to ask is what it means to the customer, as if it means nothing then why are we discussing / doing it?

The conference kicks off with a near one hour executive operator panel discussion entitled “APAC Leadership Debate” with high-profile panelists: Christian Daignault, CTO, CSL, Hong Kong; Mock Pak Lum, CTO, StarHub, Singapore; Sadayuki Abeta, Director, Radio Access Network Department, NTT Docomo, Japan; and Choi Jin-Sung, Senior Vice President & Head of Technology Strategy, SK Telecom, Korea.

Our objectives in the panel discussion are:

  • Discussing LTE’s impact on the evolution of operators’ business models.  We’ve seen the move away from unlimited data, instigated to encourage people to use mobile broadband when 3G pipes lay empty.  Will we see a move to tiered subscription models with bundles of voice, messaging and data; with unlimited voice and messaging defining the biggest data bundles?
  • Building out WiFi public networks, what does the future hold?  Reviewing small cell / femto versus WiFi and the issues around control, customer experience, and economics.
  • How and to what extent can tiered pricing slow growth in data traffic?  Should the growth be slowed?  Does that open the door to WiFi competitors?  Can policy control help?
  • Will CAPEX increase, decrease or remain stable over the next couple of years?  Operator spending is a critical issue as revenue restructures and suppliers continue to struggle.
  • Is the move to LTE driving network sharing and managed network services?
  • Is LTE fragmentation a concern and why?
  • What could the future hold? How will service offerings and partnerships differ 5 years from now?  How will the customer experience be different?  Will will still have 4 or 5 network operators in each country, will it consolidate into a duopoly of infrastructure providers and a large number of brand-driven service providers?
  • Will LTE Advance kill DSL?  Will fixed-only broadband providers only survive if they deliver fiber or coaxial cable based broadband?  How will converged operators manage this situation, will their fixed networks simply become the backhaul network for their wireless network?

Over the two days four streams will run, on the first day the streams include: TD-LTE, small cells, managing mobile data, working with third parties.  And on the second day: business model evolution, small cells, LTE roaming and VoLTE.

The APAC market remains the most diverse in the world with a unique set of challenges.  LTE Asia is likely to be the most interesting conference in the LTE conference series as North America has almost completed its LTE roll-out as Verizon decided not to fund the creation of a 4G version of CDMA, hence needed to make the leap to LTE as its EVDO network could only support 1.4 Mbps, a competitive disadvantage never exploited by AT&T.  And Europe focuses on LTE in hotspots (dense urban cells) and spectrum discussions with the regulator.